Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Harry Potter Book Club Ideas

This post is part of an ongoing Summer Reading for Kids series. Click HERE to find ideas for reading activities, reading lists, and reading incentives...and keep checking back for more! This post contains affiliate links.

It's the end of July, and that means it's time to celebrate our favorite Boy Who Lived. It's Harry Potter's birthday! I'm joining in again this year with Raegun Ramblings and her amazing Happy Harry Potter blog series. The incredible ideas other bloggers are coming up with are blowing my mind, and I'm humbled to add my own ideas into the mix today.

Some easy and fun ideas for hosting a Harry Potter book club discussion. #overstuffedlife

One of our favorite things to do at our house during the summer is read. And the best thing about reading is sharing books with others. A few years ago, we began hosting kids' book clubs. My girls choose their favorite book of the moment and invite their friends to read it and then they have a fun party all about that book. Not only are kids' book clubs a great way to get your kids reading, they are a great excuse to throw an awesome party!

So far, we haven't done a Harry Potter book club. But I came up with some fun ideas for the future Harry Potter book club that we definitely will have someday soon.

Buy the Harry Potter books here: Harry Potter paperback book set. Or, even better, the new illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. We are in love with it. Buy it here: Illustrated Harry Potter Book 1.

Homemade Butter Beer

Easy recipe for Harry Potter Homemade Butter Beer. Delicious! #overstuffedlife

There are lots of fun recipes out there that you can serve at a Harry Potter Book Club, but my girls wanted to try out some butterbeer. We played around a bit and came up with this recipe. It was really, really yummy! I can see why Harry Potter liked it so much!


1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla
1 tablespoon butterscotch ice cream topping 
pinch of salt
cream soda
gold sprinkles


Using either a stand mixer or a hand mixer on medium speed, begin whipping the heavy whipping cream. While whipping, slowly add the powdered sugar, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Once the ingredients are mixed in, increase the mixer speed to high and whip until the cream is firm, but not stiff.

Add the butterscotch topping and continue whipping until it is well mixed in.

Pour cold cream soda into a chilled glass or mug. Spoon the cream mixture on top of the soda and add gold sprinkles for extra magical effect.

I thought these gold-striped paper straws also added some special magic to the butter beer, too.


Related: Easy Butterbeer Cake Recipe

Delicious Harry Potter Butterbeer recipe. Easy to make. #overstuffedlife

Candy Sorting Hats

Make fun candy sorting hats for your Harry Potter party. When the cones are opened, the candy color tells them which house they are sorted into. #overstuffedlife

I thought it would be fun to sort the guests into groups for playing games or even for the discussion questions. I made little sorting hats out of black card stock by first making paper cones and then adding a circle traced from a DVD to the bottom as a brim. Before attaching the hat brims, I filled each cone with red, yellow, green, or blue M&Ms. (In the process, I learned that M&M packages are very lacking in both yellow and red, but have an overabundance of blue!)

The hats in the above photo have all been opened so that you can see the house colors in each hat: Red=Gryffindor, Yellow=Hufflepuff, Green=Slytherin, and Blue=Ravenclaw.

Paper sorting hats filled with candy for a Harry Potter book club. #overstuffedlife

Use hot glue to seal the brims to the paper cones. They will be nice and sealed until the sorting happens and the brims are ripped off. Bend the tops to help them look a little more like the actual sorting hat looked.

It's exciting to see which house you are sorted into! Go Ravenclaw! (That's my favorite house.)

Discussion Activity

Once the kids have been sorted, use their houses as their teams. If you don't have a lot of guests, you can combine houses and play with only two teams. Maybe Gryffindor/Ravenclaw against Slytherin/Hufflepuff, for instance.

I just printed out the names of the five main classes the students at Hogwarts take in their first year: Charms, Potions, Transfiguration, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Herbology.

Each team will choose a category and then answer a question about the book that has to do with that category. This will work no matter which Harry Potter book you are discussing in your book club.

And, since I didn't think of it before, you could also have a bonus Quidditch category.

There are so many other things you could do, but those are just a few ideas that we wanted to try out! In fact, I bet you will find a ton of other Harry Potter ideas to incorporate into a Harry Potter book club discussion by clicking over to Raegun Ramblings Happy Harry Potter Series to see what other bloggers are sharing. Prepare to be amazed.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Super Simple Cheetah Birthday Party Ideas

Today my cheetah-obsessed Sophia turned 9 years old. It pretty much goes without saying that we threw her a cheetah themed birthday party! I am not a big fan of throwing super intricate birthday parties. I was an awesome birthday party mom for one year a few years ago, and ever since then, I have been pretty low-key. The great thing about the cheetah party I threw today is that it looks like I spent a ton of time on it, but I didn't (insert evil laugh here)! With the help of online shopping, my older girls, and a few easy ideas, Sophia had an amazing cheetah themed birthday party with minimal effort on my part. Just the kind of birthday party I like.

Cheetah birthday party ideas: Great ideas for cheetah themed invitations, party decorations, cake, party favors, and fun cheetah games to play. #overstuffedlife
(At the very end of the post you will find links to all of the supplies I used and downloads to the things I created myself. Enjoy!)

Cheetah Birthday Party Invitation

I whipped up this cute cheetah print birthday invite in Photoshop and printed it out on white card stock.

I have a blank template available for (free) download here: Blank Cheetah Birthday Invitation. You can print them out and handwrite your birthday party details on them, or add the information in a photo editing program. Super easy!

Cheetah Birthday Party Decorations 

I do not like to decorate more than one room for birthday parties, even if we will be using more than one room. Too much work! I usually stick to decorating the dining room only, and that's exactly what I did today.

Use printed fabric to get the tablecloth you really want for your birthday party. We used cheetah printed fabric for our fabulous cheetah party. #overstuffedlife

I used some cheetah printed fabric (or maybe it's actually leopard print—either way, Sophia likes it all) for a tablecloth. I purchased about 2.5 yards from the fabric store. I chose the cheapest cheetah print they had, so it wasn't very much money. Now I'll wash it up and use it to make something or the other for Sophia.

Cheetah and leopard printed paper lanterns are an easy party decoration for your cheetah themed birthday party. #overstuffedlife

I purchased some cheetah and leopard printed paper lanterns on Amazon. (The package also included giraffe and tiger lanterns in case I throw a safari party or something.) I can't actually tell the difference between the cheetah and the leopard, but they looked nice together and were very festive! They didn't come with anything to hang them with, so I threaded pink grosgrain ribbon through them and taped them to the ceiling.

The only other decorations I used were good old-fashioned balloons. Except some of them had animal print on them. I couldn't find any cheetah printed balloons locally, so I also ordered those from Amazon. Turns out they are leopard balloons. I also used plain pink balloons to make it more interesting.

Cheetah Birthday Party Favors

Sophia and I found some cute little metal pails at Walmart in the party supply section. They had them in several colors and patterns, including animal prints. We bought both cheetah/leopard print and pink ones. We decorated the pink ones with some cheetah ribbon and added pink ribbon to the cheetah pails.

We filled the pails with Cheetos, bubbles, a handful of Rolos (because they look like cheetah spots!), and some cheetah heart stickers.

The nice thing about using the sturdy pails for party favors is that they also served as decorations until the end of the party. I love it when things do double duty!

For game prizes, I bought big packages of Milk Duds and Whoppers (Whoppers are not gluten-free, but Milk Duds are) and re-labeled them "Cheetah spots." You can find the download here: Cheetah Spots. They were a big hit!

Use candies like whoppers, rolos, or milk duds to be "cheetah spots" for cheetah themed party favors. Free printable download. #overstuffedlife

Just print them out on plain paper, cut them to size, and tape them on with packing tape. Totally easy!

Cheetah Birthday Party Games

The first game we played was "Cheetah Friends." This is our cheetah version of a familiar party game. I printed out animals the cheetah might be neighbors with and stuck one on the back of each girl attending the party. They then had to guess which animal they were by asking the other girls "yes" or "no" questions only.

This is always a fun one to do first because sometimes the party guests don't all know each other very well. It's a good chance for them to learn each others names and break the ice by having to talk to one another.

The next game we played was "Feed the Cheetah." Bria and Chloe spent part of the morning drawing some of the animals that cheetahs eat on some large foam sheets. If you don't have artistically talented teenagers, then you can just print out some clip art onto the foam sheets or some heavy duty paper.

We hung the foam animal drawings on the back fence with thumbtacks.

The girls then threw water balloons at their animal targets. Whoever hit the targets the most times won the game.

I used those new fancy water balloons that allow you to fill 40 at a time with the hose, so we had 120 water balloons total. The girls had an absolute blast with this game! (So did the dog--she was picking up the un-popped water balloons and stashing them away as fast as she could!)

While we were still outside we also ran Cheetah Races. Since cheetahs run super fast, we timed each girl running three laps around the yard to find out who was the cheetah speed queen. I was too busy timing them to take photos, but they had a blast with this one!

Finally, we went back in the house and played another game. I don't have any idea what to call it—maybe "Cheetah Balloon Scramble?" The idea is that each girl has to hold the cheetah stuffed animal (Sophia's idea) and then pick up as many of the balloons as she possibly can. It was great watching the different tactics each girl tried, and our winner managed to hold 13 balloons and the stuffed animal! Incredible!

Cheetah Birthday Cake

I fully admit that I have not bothered to grow my talents in cake decorating. So the cakes I make for my girls' birthdays are generally pretty rudimentary. But Sophia really wanted a cheetah print cake, so I did what I could for her. I mean, see how stupid my writing is? Don't laugh, I don't have the proper tools, and I'm not willing to buy them for making three cakes a year. (Don't turn me into Cake Wrecks, either, okay?)

How to make a cheetah print birthday cake. #overstuffedlife

I found this video online which explains how to put cheetah spots inside the cake. While I wasn't as successful as the video was, I was pretty darn pleased with my results.

How to make a cheetah print birthday cake. #overstuffedlife

Look! That's cheetah print (sort of) inside that cake! I did dark brown and pink to match the rest of the party. I think that gluten-free batter cooks enough differently that the technique didn't work as well, but I am eager to try it again someday to see if I can make it a little better.

For the sides of the cake, I used this great cheetah print edible cake border. The same company also sells edible cake toppers in the same pattern, but I wanted to be able to write Happy Birthday Sophia on my cake. I probably should have gone with the cake topper, huh?

The border was pretty easy to put on, but my cakes are never very perfectly round, so there's that.

It doesn't matter though! Sophia loved every bit of this cheetah birthday party and that's what matters most. Everything was really simple and quick for me, and the end result was a fabulous party and a very happy birthday girl!

Happy Birthday Sophia!!!

List of Party Supplies with Links

Click on any item to download or purchase for your very own cheetah birthday party!

Cheetah Print Birthday Invitation Download
Animal Print Hanging Paper Lanterns
Jungle Print Leopard Balloons
Plain Pink Party Balloons
Safari Tin Pails
Pink Tin Pails
Cheetah Printed Grosgrain Ribbon
Pink Grosgrain Ribbon
Cheetah Heart Stickers
"Cheetah Spots" Candy Labels
Balloon Bonanza Water Balloon Maker
Foam Sheets
Tag Pink Birthday Candles
Pink Cheetah Print Edible Cake Border

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Friday, July 17, 2015

5 Life Lessons I Learned From My Dog

In March of 2012, we finally got a dog.  Even though I grew up with dogs, having a dog as an adult has been an entirely different experience. First of all, I got to name her.

I'm an opera singer, and Puccini is my favorite opera composer. My bathroom is decorated in vintage Puccini opera posters, I could listen to Puccini all day, and my favorite arias to sing are written by Puccini. I always thought it would be so fun to name a dog Puccini. Not only would it be an homage to my favorite composer, it would be a cute play on words: Pooch-ini.

Five important life lessons that my dog understands better than I do. #overstuffedlife
When we got our little schnoodle puppy, it was obvious that her name needed to be Pooch. I mean, just look at that adorable puppy photo below! She is the epitome of the word pooch. Puccini was the perfect name for her. This was solidified for me a week or so later when I took her on her very first walk down by the waterfront. Two people passing by us both said "Hi Pooch!" to her, and I knew we had chosen the right name for her.

I love my little dog so much, and I treasure the relationship she has with my family. Puccini has truly become a member of our household and has taught me more than a few things about life. If I could live a little more like a dog, I think I'd be doing pretty darn well. She understands the important things in life a lot better than I do, that's for sure!

5 Life Lessons I Learned From my Dog

1. If you need a hug, ask for it.

Every morning, Puccini lets us know she is ready for her morning snuggles by pawing at our arms and faces. If we stop scratching her back before she is ready, she paws again. Sometimes, during the day she sticks her nose under my hand (no matter what my hand is currently doing) and lets me know she needs a good scratch behind the ears.

Puccini demanding affection from me while I was trying to photograph something for my blog.

Sometimes I really need love and hugs, too. But I'm not very bold about asking for them. Instead, I sit around feeling unloved and uncomforted when I could just tell my husband or my kids that I could really use a hug right now.

Take a lesson from Pucci, if you need to connect with someone, tell them so! Ask for hugs.

2. Exercise is the best part of the day.

If I say the words "Do you want to go on a," Puccini's ears immediately perk up and she cocks her head expectantly. If the word "walk" comes next, she leaps off of her perch on the couch and bounds to the front door, whimpering with excitement. (If the word "ride" comes next, she is generally happy to go, but she does not show the same level of enthusiasm as she does for walks.)

As soon as we're outside, she practically drags me up the hill in her happiness for being outside. I hate exercise, and only do it begrudgingly. Doing it with my dog, who is just so happy to be moving her body, makes it a little bit fun. Sometimes I even run with her for (very) short spurts, which sends her over the moon with joy.

She knows something I don't, obviously. Exercise is important and should be eagerly anticipated.

I'm getting there, Pooch.

3. Friends are awesome, but family is the awesomest.

Puccini has many friends. Some of them are other dogs and some of them are favorite humans. She greets all of her beloved friends with equal enthusiasm, thoroughly unable to contain her happiness (in more ways than one, unfortunately—Puccini does not have the strongest of bladders when she is happy!).

But if a member of the family comes home—even if they had just stepped outside to get the mail—her happiness at their return is ten times the happiness she shows when a friend visits. Happiness is really the wrong word here, more like sheer ecstasy. And lots of happy pee.

She knows the general time the school bus brings her sisters home each day and right around 3:00 she takes up a vigilant perch at the window watching for them. Sometimes I walk up to the bus stop with her instead and the happy reunion every single afternoon is wonderful to see.

I'm working on greeting my friends and family a little more enthusiastically. Even if I don't pee myself or jump up and down in joy, I want them to know that I am genuinely happy to see them and even happier to have them in my life.

4. Sleep is important.

Puccini values her sleep. I should, but I am a night owl to the core and my life requires me to get up earlier than I'd like. Sleep is always taking a back burner in my life.

My dog does her best to get me to bed earlier, though. If I am working on my computer when she is ready to go to bed, she comes and sits at my feet and makes a low rumbly noise in the back of her throat. It's not a growl, exactly, but it's her way of letting me know she wants something from me (sometimes it's food, for instance). When she does this at night, she is telling me it is time to go to bed already!

If I ignore her, she eventually gives up and goes to my bedroom, hops on the bed, and proceeds to bark at me to come join her. If I still don't come, she lets out an annoyed sigh, makes her nest, and goes to sleep without me.

If that weren't enough, she makes sure to get several naps in each day, as well. If I actually decide to get in bed and take a nap, she takes a running leap to the bed and cuddles with me the whole time. She loves her nap time!

5. Keep on chasing your dreams, no matter how many times you fail.

Puccini would love nothing more than to catch a squirrel or a chipmunk. She has ample opportunity to try, but the closest she's come is chasing a chipmunk into the house and cornering it behind the fridge (that was fun).

She doesn't let the fact that she has never actually caught a small animal get her down. She doesn't let the fact that her chipmunk catching skills are pretty poor keep her from trying again. She really wants to catch a chipmunk, and by golly, she's going to keep trying until she does. And then she'll keep trying until she catches another one.

How many times have I given up on something after multiple failures? Too many times. Time to dust off those dreams and keep on chasing!

How did your dog get its name? What life lessons has your dog taught you?

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bedroom Redo: How to Create a Peaceful Haven

About a month ago, I finally redid our bedroom. I honestly had no idea how much of a non-peaceful haven it was until I finished up with the bedroom makeover. The end result is just so much better that I wonder what made me wait so long to finish it!

Before I show you the metamorphosis, I must confess that I am terrible about remembering to take before photos when I do these projects. I am not really a DIY or even a home decor blogger, so I just dive right into a project and only remember to grab photos halfway through. Someday I'll learn!

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Bedroom Redo: How to create a peaceful haven. 6 important things to remember when turning your bedroom into your own private sanctuary. #overstuffedlife

I dug through some recent photos and came up with this one from a few months ago when I was recovering from shoulder surgery and The Maestro had pneumonia. What a fun time that was! But, you can at least get an idea of the old wall color, bedding, sheer curtains, and a small glimpse of the wall decor.

When we moved into this house the (tiny) master bedroom was really the least offensive room in the house as far as paint color and carpeting. I mean, compared to Bria and Chloe's bedroom and Sophia's bedroom, it was downright gorgeous.

And that is why it took me almost six years to do anything about it.

The Maestro went to conduct an orchestra in China in May. He was gone for nearly two weeks, I was finished working for the semester, and the girls were still in school. It was a perfect time to redo the bedroom to surprise my husband, so I got to work!

Before I go into all the ways to make your bedroom a room you want to spend lots of time in, here is a list of the materials I used.

Materials used:

How I Turned My Bedroom Into a Peaceful Haven

1. I found bedding that I loved

The first order of business was to find new bedding. I knew I wanted calming, peaceful colors for the bedroom and The Maestro is a Type 2 in the Dressing Your Truth system. This means that grey is one of his signature colors. I've decorated the house without asking his opinion plenty of times, so I thought this time I would choose the colors that I know work with his Type 2 Energy. They are super calming colors, so that was perfect for a bedroom anyway.

I went to look for bedding just knowing I wanted something with grey. I finally found a beautiful plum/purple/grey set that I love. (I couldn't find the exact set online anywhere since it was discontinued, but I did find a couple that look very similar: HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

I got rid of the old green and brown bed set, and already that made a huge difference in the energy of my bedroom! Here is the new set with the old paint and curtains.

Please excuse my photos--I simply don't have a wide enough lens to photograph my small 1909 bedroom very easily, so I had to use my phone.
I had also put up some new lamps I got during our IKEA trip in May. Before we only had one lamp and it had seen better days!

2. Calming Paint Color(s)

The next order of business was to choose paint colors. I ended up choosing Sherwin Williams Soulmate for the accent wall and Sherwin Williams Beguiling Mauve for the other three walls. They are a purply grey, or maybe a greyish purple, depending on the light. Plus I will admit to liking the name "Soulmate" for our bedroom paint color.

Paint color all chosen--now it's time to paint! I spent a day removing things from the walls, cleaning them, patching holes, and moving furniture away from the walls.

Now, remember that I had shoulder surgery fairly recently. So I did all the taping, and then my 14-year-old daughter helped me paint. I did a lot of the low stuff, but she did 75% of the painting. My shoulder and I thank her profusely! We spent an entire Saturday painting together and had a great time doing it.

My teenager painting my bedroom in Sherwin Williams Beguiling Mauve.

I wasn't sure about the lighter color as it went on the wall--I thought it might be too feminine and lavender looking, but as it dried I found myself liking it more and more.

Here are a few good photos to see how the accent wall and lighter walls came together. They are right next to each other on the paint card, so I was really happy to see that there was just the right amount of contrast to the walls.

Repainted bedroom--Sherwin Williams Beguiling Mauve and Soulmate
I really wish you could see it in person. It is so hard to get good photos in this bedroom! Either the sun is blasting through the windows or it's too dark to get clear pictures. But my phone did a pretty good job considering the awful conditions it had to deal with!

Repainted bedroom--Sherwin Williams Beguiling Mauve and Soulmate

This last photo is the best I could get to show you the two nightstands together with the accent wall. The painting on the right is one that was hanging in our dining room. I wanted something of similar size and frame to be on the other side, so I headed over to the consignment store and looked. I found that frame with a really awful piece of commercialized art in it, but I knew it would be perfect. I brought it home, took it apart and replaced the ugly artwork with a painting that I had of the temple where The Maestro and I were married.

Repainted bedroom--Sherwin Williams Beguiling Mauve and Soulmate

Here's a photo of the walls that aren't contrasting--what we look at while lying in bed. I love the calming color!

Repainted bedroom--Sherwin Williams Beguiling Mauve and Soulmate

3. Use black-out curtains

It took me a while to get the curtains up. I struggled to find just what I wanted, but I finally made a decision that I was happy with, and I found them on Amazon. These grey jacquard black out curtains are perfect! Black out curtains are so essential to getting good rest in your bedroom. In the summers where I live it doesn't get dark until 11:00 pm and the sun is back up by 5:30 am! The winters aren't bright, but they are cold, so the thermal part of the black out curtains is essential then.

One of my least favorite parts of our small bedroom is that the king-sized bed cannot be centered against the window. That wall is the only option for a king-sized bed due to the radiator and doors around the rest of the room. I wanted to find curtains that could hide the off-centered window and give the illusion that it was a larger window than it actually is.

To accomplish this, I hung the curtain rods all the way at the ceiling. Also, I have no earthly idea how I did that with my shoulder, but it was the most difficult thing I did in this room! Thank goodness for a power drill and a stubborn will, I guess! For that smaller window, I centered the curtain rod with the bed instead of the window, that way once the curtains were hung it looks like the window is bigger (and centered).

It's hard to see how great the curtains actually look with all that sunshine, but I love how they disguise the centering problem. Nobody has to know!

I just love how they pulled the whole look of the bedroom together!

Bedroom Redo: How to create a peaceful haven. 6 important things to remember when turning your bedroom into your own private sanctuary.

4. Get rid of clutter

I know I'm always talking about how getting rid of clutter brings you more peace, but it DOES. And it's especially important in your bedroom. If you want a peaceful bedroom space, get rid of all the stuff that's cluttering it up!

Our nightstands are really good at gathering random junk, so I've made it a point to clean them off daily and only keep our book piles on them. I love how clean that one simple thing makes the room look.

Here's my side of the bed, with my Kindle and various self-help books and fictional novels.

And here's The Maestro's side of the bed with lots of books about music.

5. Choose photos and artwork that represent your relationship with your spouse

Before I redid the room, I had a lot of photos of the kids in there. But I decided that I really wanted the room to be just about me and my husband. About us. I have plenty of photos of the kids all over the house, and I have very few of just The Maestro and me.

I had already used up my budget, so I just used our wedding and engagement photos that were already framed from 16 years ago. I am hoping to get a few more recent pictures of the two of us in there soon, though. The only other artwork currently in the room is the painting of the temple where we were married and the other painting of Christ above the nightstands.

Oh, and I decluttered these other two dressers,. too--and I'm working hard to keep them that way.

I also added a silver tray that I love but didn't have a place to my dresser. It makes a nice holding area for jewelry and make-up while I am getting ready (or when I'm too lazy to put it away immediately).

Where those wall sconces are used to be some hooks that held all my jewelry. I'll talk about my new jewelry solution in a future post. The mirror was my grandmother's, and while it doesn't totally match the style of the room, I love it, and it's the only one I had. Besides, it's the most honest mirror in my house—I couldn't possibly get rid of it!

6. Keep it clean

In other words, make the bed daily. I am not always perfect at this, but it sure does go a long way to making my bedroom a haven. And it only takes me 3 minutes.

So that's it! Let's all just give it one more look—can't you just feel all the peaceful feelings exuding from that room? I am so happy I finally got it done!

Bedroom Redo: How to create a peaceful haven. 6 important things to remember when turning your bedroom into your own private sanctuary.

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